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Hands-On Review: Gretsch Drums Catalina, Renown & USA Maple

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Modern models with classic craftmanship

By DJ Adams

Drumming was an art I learned at the knee of some wizened, older hometown musicians

One of those aged artists once sent me home with the Mel Bay drum method "red" and "blue" books and an admonition to hone my chops by listening to drummers’ albums like Harvey Mason’s ’70s fusion masterpiece Funk in a Mason Jar. I was soon blown away by his amazing musicianship and that superb sound emanating from his set. It was much later when I discovered that Harvey Mason was a major endorser of Gretsch drums and that the company is still a purveyor of what has been been called "That Great Gretsch Sound."

Now, I’ve always been a firm believer that experience counts for a lot. Upon beginning this review for Musician’s Friend, I discovered that no American drum manufacturer has more experience than Gretsch.

Gretsch Drums Renown 4-Piece Shell Pack

A rich history

The family-owned Gretsch music enterprise was born in 1883, when German immigrant Friedrich Gretsch opened a small musical-instrument manufacturing shop in Brooklyn, NY. They incorporated the impeccable craftsmanship that was a signature of Gretsch guitars into their drum design. This was evident in Gretsch’s indomitable Broadkaster Series kits.

Gretsch was a major player in the constant innovation of drum design. They led the way with features like three-way tension, die-cast hoops, staggered-seam shells, snare-drum stick rests, positive throw-off, and snare control.

Under the leadership of Friedrich Gretsch’s great-grandson, Fred Gretsch, Jr., the company continues to produce some very fine percussion instruments. The overseas-manufactured Renown Maple and Catalina Series, and the USA Maple Series from Musician’s Friend are no exception.

Past masters & present players

The list of drummers that played or are playing Gretsch drums is impressive. It includes some of my personal jazz heroes. Legends like "Philly" Jo Jones, Louie Bellson, Art Blakey, Chick Webb, Elvin Jones, and Max Roach.

Then there are contemporary drum stars like Phil Collins and Charlie Watts. Other Gretsch endorsers include Alvino Bennett (with Robin Trower, Slash, Heavy D, Chaka Khan, B.B. King, Stevie Wonder, Bo Diddley, Isley Brothers, and countless others), Pete Thomas (with Elvis Costello, Tim McGraw, Los Lobos, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Randy Newman), Debbi Peterson of the Bangles, Jimmie Fadden of The Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, and Denny Seiwell (with Billy Joel, Paul McCartney, Art Garfunkel).

Gretsch’s signature sets reflect the input of still more drumming greats and include a Vinnie Colaiuta (Frank Zappa, Sting, Joni Mitchell, et al) and a Harvey Mason series.

Make no mistake. These Gretsch sets are the ideal axe for new-millennium music too. Just configure a kit to your taste. The rich resonance, tuned shell response, and ideal tunability will fit the bill for modern rock, hip-hop, metal, country, R&B, or whatever you want.

A living testament to this phenomenon is Stan Frazier. The drummer for popular, California-based rock band Sugar Ray swears by his Gretsch sets. You can even hear "That Great Gretsch Sound" driving the hip-hop/rock beat laid down by Rob Bourdon of Linkin Park.

Renown Maple Series

These are some beautiful drums. The six-ply maple shells have a high-gloss, translucent, deep-lacquer finish and that Gretsch signature silver finish inside. The 30-degree bearing edges give you a great attack and the GTS tom suspension system really helps with the resonance. The matching 14" snare drums are professional workhorses with their ten-ply maple shells and 45-degree bearing edges. All drums have 2.3mm Power Hoops.

Gretsch Drums Catalina Maple 6-Piece Shell Pack

Catalina Stage & Elite Series

The Catalina Series drums are defined by their sharp-looking six-ply mahogany shells and fine finishes. They feature 30-degree bearing edges, the GTS tom suspension system, and 1.6mm hoops. The fully adjustable independent double-tom holders provide lots of positioning flexibility. The matching 14" snare drums are responsive and sonically superb.

The Elite Series drums have a high-gloss, see-through lacquer UV finishes and the bass drums feature sleek-looking maple hoops.

The Catalina Stage Series drums combine good looks and a tough, solid finish. I grew fond of the rugged-looking, black powdercoated hoops with the matching color inlays.

Gretsch Drums USA Custom Floor Tom Drum

USA Maple Series

This series exudes collectibility. Its attractiveness evokes the past splendor of Gretsch sets, wedded with today’s technology. The satin oil finish on the maple shells is pure art. The 2.3mm hoops and hardware have a brilliant chrome finish. Even the beefy telescopic spurs on the bass drum are attention getters. Optional matching wood snare drums feature the sure-action NickleWorks throw-off.

Features & Specs

Renown Maple Fusion Shell Pack

  • 22" x 18" bass
  • 12" x 9" tom
  • 14" x 11" floor tom
  • 51/2" x 14" wood snare
  • 3 single tom clamps
  • Available in deep black, deep red and deep blue

Renown Maple Standard Shell Pack

  • 22" x 18" bass
  • 12" x 9" tom
  • 10" x 13" tom
  • 16" x 16" floor tom
  • 5" x 14" wood snare
  • 3 single-tom clamps
  • Available in deep black, deep red and deep blue

Catalina Stage and Elite Shell Pack

  • 22" x 18" bass
  • 12" x 9" tom
  • 13" x 10" tom
  • 16" x 16" floor tom
  • 5" x 14" wood snare
  • 3 single tom clamps
  • Stage shell packs available in silver frost, liquid black and wine red
  • Elite shell packs available in dark walnut, smokey black and ruby red

Tags: Acoustic Drums Gretsch

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